The First Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2017
Pastor Frederick Casmer
"COME, SAVE US, O LORD!"
John Philips, in his book Exploring Revelation, describes the return of Richard I, the Lionhearted, to England. While the king was doing battle in the crusades, his brother, Prince John, justly vilified in the tales of Robin Hood, usurped the throne and misruled the realm. The people of England suffered under John’s rule and prayed for the return of their rightful king. Then one day Richard returned. He laid claim to his throne. None dared stand in his path. Church bells pealed and the people shouted: “Long live the king!” Then Philips adds the words: “One day a king greater than Richard will lay claim to a realm greater than England. Those who have abused the earth in His absence, seized His domains and mismanaged His world will all be swept aside.” That King is Christ who will return on Judgment Day. As England prayed for the return of Richard, so the Church prays for Christ’s return: “COME, SAVE US, O LORD!”1. We know Your almighty power. 2. We confess our complete sinfulness. 3. We trust Your unfailing mercy.
Isaiah prophesied 60 years (740-680 BC) under the reigns of five kings of Judah. Much of what he said was bad news for Judah. Oh, outwardly the nation prospered, but inwardly they had hardened their hearts in unbelief and wandered far away from the LORD. Sound familiar? As punishment for their idolatry, Isaiah foresaw the day when God would permit Judah’s enemies to trample the temple, destroy the capital and carry off its people into captivity.
So the prophet pleads for the LORD to show His power to deliver His people from their enemies: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause nations to quake before you!” (vv 1-2). Even the Hebrew words used by the prophet sound like an explosion. If only God would tear the heavens like an old curtain and miraculously appear! If only Jehovah would come down with the same power that quickly consumes brushwood in crackling flames and heats up water to the boiling point. After all, hadn’t God done that many times in Israel’s past? When He sent the 10 plagues to punish pharaoh and the Egyptians and miraculously parted the Red Sea to allow Israel to escape? When He made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down or scattered the Canaanite armies with hail-stones? Wouldn’t such power comfort the faithful and convince the skeptic?
“COME, SAVE US, O LORD!” is still the prayer of the faithful as the Church awaits her Savior’s return. Don’t we sometimes wish the real Jesus would just stand up and prove His detractors wrong and us right? Don’t we tire of the snide remarks, ridicule and rejection of those who deny Christ and His Word and wish God would silence His critics once and for all? But would such a show of divine force really convince the skeptic? God did that on Mt. Carmel in the showdown between Elijah and the false prophets of Baal. What happened when the LORD sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice? Yes, the people said: “The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kg 18:39). Yes, Israel followed the LORD for a while. But even that miracle did not convince wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who hunted Elijah down like a dog to kill him. People are not even convinced by God’s almighty power if they don’t understand the reason for God’s just anger.
Why was the LORD angry with the people of Judah? They had sinned against Him and persisted in their stubborn unbelief, making Him even angrier! “But when we continued to sin against them (your ways), you were angry” (v5a). Nowhere in the Bible do we find a more powerful picture of sin than Isaiah paints here. Remember this description applies not only to the people of Judah in Isaiah’s day, but to all people of all time. So we pray, “COME, SAVE US, O LORD!” 2. We confess our complete sinfulness.
The prophet portrays the destructive, devastating nature of sin with this powerful picture: “All of us have become one who is unclean and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (v6a). “Unclean!” cried out lepers (Le 13:45), shunned and loathed by society because they had an incurable, contagious disease. So sin thoroughly infects and corrupts people, making them “unclean,” objects of abhorrence to a holy, righteous God. It makes even the best deeds we can offer like blood-stained clothes in God’s eyes.
In 1900 Mark Twain gave a speech before the Society of American Authors. During his address he confessed, “I am constructed like everybody else and enjoy a compliment as well as any other fool, but I do have… another side. I have a wicked side. Estimable friends who know all about it… would take a certain delight in telling you things I have done and things further that I have not repented. The real life that I live, and the real life that I suppose all of you live, is a life of interior sin.” Isaiah’s words are not for people like Mark Twain who feel good about themselves because they’ve managed to get away with all kinds of sins, who do wrong and stubbornly refuse to repent of their life of “interior sin.”
Because blindness to sin and refusal to repent of its destructive power will only lead to one damning result: ”we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (v6b). Because of their idolatry, Judah would be swept away by Babylon like the fall winds blow away a pile of dry leaves. But that’s nothing compared the whirlwind of God’s judgment which will sweep away all sin and unbelief on the Last Day!
All of this is intended to lead us to despair. “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (v7). When God displays His judgment, you can’t see His gracious face, because He has “given us over to our sins,” to feel the full effect of God’s anger because we have deserted Him. In despair like Judah we cry out: “How then can we be saved?”(v5b).
The stern preaching of God’s law which judges and condemns always has at least one useful purpose: it drives us to the only place help can be found – into the saving arms of Christ. The prophet’s message was not just gloom and doom. He could still extend his people this ray of hope. We pray, “COME, SAVE US, O LORD!” because 3. We trust Your unfailing mercy.
Isaiah reminds the LORD of the covenant of grace made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “You, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (63:16b). In the fullest sense the LORD was Israel’s Father. He had chosen this people for His own, accepted and reared them, guided and protected them and highly exalted them. In the fullest sense the LORD was Israel’s Redeemer who freed them from slavery in Egypt and would free them from slavery to sin through the promised Messiah. “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (v8). As a potter fashions items out of a lump of formless clay, molds it carefully to fit his own useful purpose, so the LORD formed this people to be His chosen instrument to bring salvation to the world and light to the gentiles. Whatever glory Israel had was the doing of the LORD alone.
To those who are satisfied, like Mark Twain with their “interior life of sin” and remain obstinate in unbelief and impenitence like most of Judah, God is and will remain an angry Judge. But if you are not pleased with who you are and feel, somehow, someway, your life ought to be changed like Isaiah and the believing remnant of Judah, God is your Father. No, you aren’t the one who fixed things and made them right. We do not have that kind of skill or ability. You are the lump of clay in the Potter’s hand. You have been made right through the work of God’s innocent Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Advent we watch and wait in anticipation of the greatest Gift ever given, the Gift of the Christ Child sent us by God’s grace. At Christmas God answered His Church’s prayer, “COME, SAVE US, O LORD!” It is better to offer this Gift to a loved one at Christmas than Alexa, Rumba, a new tie, cell phone or coffeemaker. It is more important, because God will answer His Church’s prayer, “COME, SAVE US, O LORD!” again on the Last Day. How important that people receive His Gift of grace so that they can face Him, not in fear as their Judge, but as their Father and Redeemer because they con-fess their complete sinfulness and trust in His unfailing mercy. AMEN.